FEBRUARY 13–MAY 16, 2021


The basics of cliché-verre are simple enough that versions of the technique have been independently “discovered” since the invention of photography. An opaque drawing is made on a transparent substrate, usually a glass plate, which is placed in contact with a sheet of light-sensitive photographic paper and exposed to light. The paper darkens where the light touches it, meaning that the tones of the drawing will be reversed—the areas of the glass left clear will allow light through, and the paper will darken, while those covered by the drawing will remain light.

Léandre Grandguillaume (1807–1885) and Adalbert Cuvelier, who devised a version of the cliché-verre process at Arras, France, in 1853, developed three methods for preparing their plates. The first, which involved incising a design onto a glass plate coated with a hardened layer of light-sensitive emulsion, was hampered by technical drawbacks. Two other methods gained popularity: a reductive technique, in which an artist incised a design onto a plate coated with an opaque layer of printer’s ink; and an impasto technique, where the artist started with a clear glass plate and painted an opaque design onto it with oil paint. 

These two techniques are illustrated here.

Cliche Verre Process

Printer’s Ink Technique 

1. First, a thin, even film of printer’s ink (1) is rolled onto the surface of a glass plate using a lithographer’s roller (2). 

2. The ink is allowed to dry slightly, and then a layer of powdered white pigment is dusted over it using a sieve (3). The plate is then lightly brushed with a blending brush (4) to adhere the pigment to the ink, creating a uniform white surface. 

3. The prepared plate is then placed onto a dark cloth (5). As the drawing is incised into the opaque ground, the lines appear dark on a white field. Lines can be drawn with a quill (6), an etching needle (7), a pencil (8), or Corot’s preferred implement: a needle embedded in cork (9). A regular pattern of stippled half-tones can be achieved by using an etcher’s tool called a roulette (10), a textured metal wheel that would be rolled across the surface of the plate. Tapping the ground with a stiff metal brush (11) yields an uneven stippling pattern. 

4. When the design is complete, the plate is coated with a protective layer of varnish, allowed to dry, and printed. 

Impasto Technique 

1. A glass plate is either prepared with a layer of varnish or left uncoated.

2. It is placed on a dark cloth (1), and a design is painted onto its surface with a paintbrush (2). The paints used are white (3) and cadmium yellow (4) oil paints, which yield a pale yellow (5) when mixed. The painted areas of the plate print light, while those left unexposed print dark; by placing the plate on a dark background and painting in a light color, the artist can see the design as it will appear in the finished print. The paint can be diluted with glazing medium (6) to create areas of greater or lesser translucency, resulting in tonal gradations.

3. Once the paint is applied to the plate’s surface, the artist can work back into it with a blunt incising tool, such as the end of a paintbrush or a sharpened stick (7) to create dark linework.

4. When the design is complete, the plate is coated with a protective layer of varnish, allowed to dry, and printed.